Ursula Schulz-Dornburg (b. 1938) is known for her interest in architecture and signature topographical style focusing on a single form and cataloging its variants. Using mainly black and white photography, she builds a picture of a place using a process which is both formal and intuitive.
Her work has been exhibited in museums worldwide, including Tate Modern in London, Kunstparterre Munich, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Art Institute Chicago, Corcoran Gallery in Washington, Centro Fotografico Alvaraes Bravo in Mexico City, IVAM Valencia, and 21er Haus, Museum of 20th Century Art in Vienna.
From 1997 to 2005, Ursula Schulz-Dornburg returned repeatedly to Armenia to document its concrete bus stops. Built in the 1970s and 1980s, these bus stops represented the golden age of socialist construction. Each one was unique, designed by a different architect. Combining creativity and spectacle with a utilitarian, functional role, the structures are at odds with the ethos of mass production usually associated with the Soviet era. Schulz-Dornburg photographed the bus stops as she found them, with people present, highlighting their ongoing functionality but also making clear the ironic gap between intention and effect.
HEJAZ RAILWAY STATION
85 years after the end of the First World War, German photographer Ursula Schulz-Dornburg retraced the Ottoman railway line that once linked Damascus and Medina, sections of which were blown up by Arab guerrillas during the war. The Hejaz Railway was one of the great engineering projects of the Ottoman Empire. When work began in 1900, it was intended to run between Mecca and Damascus, ultimately connecting to the empire’s capital in Constantinople. The railway would therefore serve pilgrims to Mecca, but also to strengthen the Ottomans’ administrative and military hold over the Arab region. By the outbreak of war in 1914, the route from Damascus to Medina was complete, but it became a prime target for bands of Arab guerrillas that famously included T.E. Lawrence. After the war, as the Ottoman Empire itself disintegrated, the project was abandoned. Following the party of the Hejaz Railway in 2003, Schulz-Dornburg discovered that while much of the track had been destroyed, the station buildings remain, standing purposeless and empty in the desert. Her photographs memorialize the relics of a vanished empire
Situated in Syria the ancient city of Palmyra was a considerable force in its time. It defeated the Persians and resisted the Romans until they were conquered by the Roman Emperor Aurelian and incorporated into the empire. Ursula Schulz-Dornburg has photographed the ruins of the city using her signature formal style, focusing on a single architectural element and capturing different variations. Each group of stones is presented from the same neutral viewpoint and over a series of images the artist builds a picture which has both texture and narrative. Her subtle process is both documentary and intuition. Light on paper, black on white revealing more than just the ruins of an ancient city.
In 2012, Schulz-Dornburg travelled to photograph ‘dark sites’ (nuclear test sites) in post-Soviet Asia, where the ground is left contaminated by radioactive after-traces. Ursula Schulz-Dornburg has photographed the ruins using her signature formal style, focusing on a single architectural element and capturing different variations. Her subtle process is both documentary and intuition.
Lining the medieval pilgrimage route from Barcelona to Santiago de Compostella are nine hermitages dating from the 10th century. It was along this ancient road that the Islamic and Christian cultures collided between the 8th and 10th centuries and each chapel reflects this unique blend. Meaning ‘Position of the Sun’ in German, Sonnenstand looks at the relationship between light and architecture. Using her signature grid system, Schulz-Dornburg has photographed the east windows in these hermitages at different times of day and at different seasons of the year. The chapels become sundials, light streaming through the small arches and windows, echoing the earth’s passage around the sun.